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ARLINGTON, Va. — Army families whose soldiers were recently extended for another four months in Iraq will be allowed to move back to the United States without the servicemember, according to a new Army policy issued Tuesday.

According to the policy, any family that was originally scheduled to rotate back to the United States between May 1 and Sept. 31, but whose soldier’s tour in Iraq has been delayed, is authorized to return before the servicemember comes back from deployment.

Army officials said the new policy is specifically designed to ease the burden on families of the Germany-based 1st Armored Division, which makes up the bulk of the 14,250 active-duty soldiers whose Iraq tours were officially extended by Pentagon officials on April 19.

But because such returns have effects on certain entitlements, such as basic housing allowances, families must be “counseled as to the impacts” of their advance departure, according to the policy.

During a town hall meeting in Baumholder, Germany, last Friday, 1st AD spouses told Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, that the extension will force many children to miss the start of classes in their new U.S.-based schools.

Bell promised that families in this position would be allowed to make the move back to the United States before their husbands redeployed.

“We’re just going to make that happen,” Bell said.

The new policy “is something that USAREUR [U.S. Army Europe] requested,” acknowledged Lt. Col. Stan Heath, an Army personnel spokesman in Washington.

“It’s never been done before, to my knowledge,” Heath said. “But we have families with school-age children, and we want to give them full latitude in their decisions” about whether or not to come back to the United States in advance of their soldier’s return.

The advance family return policy is actually part of a larger Army military personnel message, or “milpers” message, that clarifies how the Army’s stop loss/stop move policies will work, now that the Iraq tours for 20,000 troops have been extended.

All 130,000 Army troops involved in the first Iraq rotation, as well as their 105,000 replacements, already were prevented from involuntary separations from the military under the Army’s unit stop loss policy.

The stop loss doesn’t end until troops have been back at their home station for 90 days.

Before the extension was announced, soldiers under stop loss were not allowed to leave the service, or ETS, as the Army calls it, until July 1.

That ETS date has now been moved to Nov. 15, according to the message.

Meanwhile, a stop-move order that covers troops deployed to Iraq prevented active-duty soldiers from reporting to their new duty stations until Aug. 20.

The reporting date is now Dec. 20, the message said.

The new report date applies to both “reenlistment” assignments — those chosen by the soldier as a condition of reenlistment — and non-reenlistment assignments, or those which soldiers have been told to accept because the Army needs them at a particular station.

The Army’s previous stop-move policies only covered re-enlistment assignments, Heath said.

Finally, soldiers whose units are based overseas and who were expecting to transfer back to the United States after their Iraq deployment with a DEROS date — date of expected overseas return — of July 1 are now expected to be back on Nov. 15, the message said.

For the full text of the milper message, click here or go to https://perscomnd04.army.mil/milpermsgs.nsf/ and click on MILPER message number 04-149.

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